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It’s Time to Start Taking Charlie Hunnam Seriously

The ‘King Arthur’ actor is more than a pretty face — even though his face is really, really pretty

(Arturo Torres)
(Arturo Torres)

It’s easy to remember what Charlie Hunnam looks like: All you have to do is close your eyes and imagine all of the best things, because his face is all the Best Things. One of my Best Things is the way that flour tortillas feel under your fingertips after they’ve just been made. Charlie Hunnam’s face looks like that. Another one of my Best Things is the way it feels when I say something silly and my youngest son, who is 4, laughs sincerely. Charlie Hunnam’s face looks like that. Another one of my Best Things is when an older person calls me a thing that reminds me of being a kid and so all of a sudden, even for just those couple of seconds, I get to feel that weightlessness of being a kid again. Charlie Hunnam’s face looks like that.

Sometimes — and this is not a joke — I will Google "Charlie Hunnam" and then click "Images" and then, bang! What an afternoon. Have you ever done that? I’ve done that. I do that. I really like this one. This one is good, too. There are so many.

A couple of days ago I watched The Lost City of Z, which stars Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett, a British explorer from the early 20th century who disappeared in the Amazonian rain forest while trying to find evidence of a lost civilization. I read the book the movie is based on several years ago. It’s a wonderful book, and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I would say it’s better than the movie. It’s more moving and more intriguing and does a much better job of relaying the dangers of the jungle. That said, at the risk of sounding reverse-pretentious, I would also say that the movie is actually better than the book, because it stars Charlie Hunnam, which the book does not. That’s how handsome and compelling Charlie Hunnam is: so handsome and compelling that it would make me lie about things that don’t need to be lied about.

Oftentimes I wonder if being as attractive as Charlie Hunnam is some kind of detriment. Would he be taken more seriously if he were 10 percent less handsome? Would his acting be given more credence? Would his abilities beyond posing for pictures be advertised more, and written about more, and celebrated more? I wonder if he’s ever sat there and been like, "I’ll bet people would lie to me less if I were uglier." That idea makes me sad because that’s a truly bizarre way to live, but it also makes me happy, because if that’s a question that you ever have to ask yourself, then I’ll bet life probably isn’t all that hard for you. I’m happy that Charlie Hunnam lives a life where that’s in play.

While The Lost City of Z has scored well for its complexity and examination of character, King Arthur, the other new movie starring Hunnam, has already gotten several bad reviews (and also is projected to flop). The thing of it is, though, is that there are reportedly five follow-ups to Arthur in motion. It’s an interesting state of affairs, and a good encapsulation of what appears to be the beginning of a Charlie Hunnam conundrum (a Hunnamdrum?): He was captivating in Z as he wandered around the jungle (and also inside his own head), but most of the attention has gone to King Arthur, the movie where his machismo and preternatural cool are best on display.

So what happens from here? What road will he walk down? Will he be able to balance the two paths like Brad Pitt did after Legends of the Fall? Or will he walk in one direction, simply hoping to avoid the other?

(FX)
(FX)

Charlie Hunnam has a walk. It’s very distinctly a Charlie Hunnam walk. Originally, I thought he’d invented the walk for Jax Teller, his swaggering character on Sons of Anarchy, a television show about an outside-the-law motorcycle gang. The walk — loping, blustering, chest-and-crotch-heavy — was perfect for Jax, the smartest and angriest and most enlightened and most conflicted member of the Sons. It matched everything about him as he tried to sort through all the pieces of being the leader of an outlaw gang and also a husband and father who didn’t want those pure parts of his life affected by the dirty parts. He didn’t do it all the time; he didn’t do it when he was, say, walking into his home at the end of a day. It was very much a situational thing. It was a weapon, almost, and definitely a tell. By the third season, anytime you’d see him do it, you’d instantly know that something treacherous was about to happen, be it a threat or a smashing.

There was a period for a couple of days after I’d binge-watched Sons for the second time when I tried to walk like that, too. I’d straighten out my spine some and let my shoulders swing a bit more than normal. I’d harden my face and loosen my legs. The second day of me doing it, my wife and I were out running errands. I started doing it as we walked through a Target, and she was like, "What, uh … what are you doing?" I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Why are you trying to walk like Jax Teller?" I said, "I LOOKED LIKE JAX TELLER WHEN I DID IT?!" She said, "That’s not what I said."

Sons of Anarchy was the first thing I’d noticed Charlie Hunnam in. He’d been on other shows and in other things that I’d seen (he was fantastic in Green Street Hooligans, for example, in which he played a proto-Jax, and he’s also excellent in Queer As Folk, which I’ve only recently begun watching) (you can see him do the walk in Queer As Folk here). But only after watching a few seasons of Sons did I realize it was the same person. That’s most likely because Hunnam played that character for so long (the show ran for six years), but it’s also possible that it’s because Hunnam was so exactly perfect for that role. It highlighted all of the things he’s the best at. It allowed him to:

  • Be menacing, and let me tell you something: There is nobody better at looking angry right now.
  • Smolder, and let me tell you another something: The only person who can smolder better than Charlie Hunnam is Tom Hardy, and that’s because Tom Hardy is the best smolderer on the planet. (I nearly passed out when I saw this magazine cover in a grocery store two summers ago.)
  • Look tormented, and I’m thinking of that one scene where, after his infant son had been kidnapped and then eventually given away to a loving family, he showed up to take him back, saw the potential for his son to have a life outside of the mayhem of his motorcycle club, then just stood there in tears as he realized that, despite (or perhaps due to) his willingness to kill to protect those around him, the baby was better off without him.
  • Appear morally conflicted, and I’m of course talking about the way that he was caught between being truly exceptional as the leader of the Sons and being absolutely terrible at figuring out a way out of that lifestyle for his family.
  • Be smarter than everyone else but still not quite smart enough, and here I’m remembering all of the times he plotted to make things better for the Sons and, generally speaking, only ever got them into more danger and more trouble.

When I saw the previews for The Lost City of Z for the first time, I said, "JAX TELLER AS PERCY FAWCETT?!" When I saw the previews for King Arthur for the first time, I said, "JAX TELLER AS KING ARTHUR?!" I wonder how long that’s going to happen. Probably forever.

Sons of Anarchy was a good show. It was a bit trashy, yes, and that was always the biggest criticism of it. But there’s a difference between being accidentally trashy, which Sons was not, and being purposefully trashy, which Sons was. I have to assume it was a creative decision. Because beyond that part of it, Sons was also smart and nuanced and exciting and silly and clever and patient and emotional. (I don’t think it’s an accident that all of those same words could be used to describe Charlie Hunnam as an actor.)

Near the end of the first season, the wife of one of the key Sons was accidentally murdered as a byproduct of some of the moves that a crooked ATF agent made. It was crushing to watch (she was shot in the back of the head after a party). But the main reason it was so memorable was because the writers spent the next two seasons working in the background to pull together all of the pieces that would eventually lead to the Sons executing the ATF agent. It was masterful, the way it was done. They never tipped their hand once; they never hurried; they never panicked. It was just a thing where, all at once, AS IT WAS HAPPENING, you realized, "Oh, fuck. They’ve been planning this for two years."

People will focus on the time that a guy bit his own tongue off to avoid talking to the police, or the time that a man hid a dismembered head in a pot of chili, or the time one person carved another person’s eyeball out of his head with a grapefruit spoon, and as well they should. But there was really good writing on that show, too. It was always about more than what people were looking at. It’s the same way with Hunnam, I suppose. Whether he’s Jax Teller or Percy Fawcett or even King Arthur, he’s always something else first.